Forgiveness and Overcoming
I apologize for the delay in writing my latest blog!
Our local newspaper covered OMG last Thursday, and I have been grateful for the busy-ness that the article created. A special thanks to Jill Callison for taking the time to visit in the very nifty OMG office.
My mind is on forgiveness, these days, because, well, as a Christian, the season of Lent will do that to a person.
CNN’s iReport has a section on amusing church signs, one of which says, “Forgive your enemies. It messes with their heads.”
Forgiveness does mess with us, I think.
There is a long tradition of forgiving only if someone asks for it, repents of it, and a little groveling wouldn’t hurt either.
On the other hand, there is a long tradition of forgiveness itself being a sign of grace. You can’t forgive someone who ‘deserves’ forgiveness, because clearly a person doesn’t deserve forgiveness who has wronged another. Forgiveness extends to the undeserving something that they don’t deserve.
Through linguistic twists and turns, the word ‘forgiveness’ comes from the Latin word perdonare (“to give wholeheartedly”), which itself comes from two words: per-, meaning thoroughly, and -donare, which means, ‘to give.’
What needs to happen (if anything) before a person should be forgiven (namely should have something given wholeheartedly), and what does forgiveness look like?
Luther whittled down the Roman Catholic sacramental list to two (baptism and Holy Communion), but he was awfully on the fence about Confession. He was all over the idea of confession as being an opportunity for cleansing and new beginnings. However, he also was convinced (and here I think he is absolutely right) that we have no idea of all of our sins. “We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.” We sin all the time, and it is an impossibility to confess all of them, let alone know all of them.
Still, believed Luther, God forgives us, even without our ability to confess our sins, let alone repent of them.
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” said Jesus on the cross. On one level, they knew exactly what they were doing. On another, they–we, did–do, not.
Things get even more interesting based on current research on brain chemicals, stress, family systems, exhaustion, mental illness, and so forth. What scientists are finding out is that many people who commit apparent offenses are, to some degree, swimming in cocktails of distress, despair, irrationality, self-protection, and disease.
The more one learns about context, history, and their relationship to choices, the more one is led to compassion…and also to the question of accountability.
Yet even if one is determined to be accountable in one measure or another, the question can still be posed: to what degree should accountability (and recognition of accountability) play any role in the offering of forgiveness?
Anne Lamott, in her book Traveling Mercies, writes that not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. It’s an interesting thought, that forgiveness might be as much for the forgiver as for the forgiven. To hold onto resentment is, I think the case can be made, a manifestation of death continuing to have hold.
Sometimes, however, withholding forgiveness camouflages conceit and mistaken superiority. It presumes that we ourselves might be above need for unmitigated grace, or that we ourselves have never/could never do any act on any such level.
In short, the matter of forgiveness is a fantastic question for systematic theology! On what basis do you give or withhold forgiveness, and is it consistent with your understanding of God and God’s agenda?
As it happens, I am of the mind that forgiveness does not mean forgetting, but overcoming. It is a sacred act that necessitates drawing upon compassion, humility, and an intentional tap into the well of grace, extending it to the Other, and to the Self.
What do you think?